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Ex-Larne mayor rejects call for hall to be renamed over slavery issue

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Charles McGarel

Charles McGarel

Defence: Tommy Robinson

Defence: Tommy Robinson

Charles McGarel

A former mayor of Larne has flatly rejected any suggestion that the town's McGarel Hall should be renamed.

Tommy Robinson, an ex-Ulster Unionist councillor who served two terms as mayor, from 1983 until 1984 and from 1985 until 1986, has defended the use of the McGarel name.

Mr Robinson was speaking after Amnesty International questioned the use of Charles McGarel's name for a civic facility because of his links to slavery.

The McGarel Hall, which is located within Larne Town Hall, is named after Charles McGarel, a slave owner, whose wealth financed the building, Magheramorne House and McGarel Cemetery. Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, urged the Larne community to consider the source of funding for the hall after its link to a slave owner was highlighted.

But Mr Robinson (right) said: "This is a historical record and Charles McGarel, like many others, had business interests which involved the use of slave labour.

"That is not what is being commemorated through the use of his name in modern times but his contribution to the town."

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Defence: Tommy Robinson

Defence: Tommy Robinson

Defence: Tommy Robinson

The issue was given prominence recently after protesters in England tore down a statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston before dumping it in the city harbour.

The statue was toppled during a protest against racism following the death of African American George Floyd during police arrest in Minneapolis last month.

Mr Corrigan said he believed it was important to "highlight the debate" and let local people decide on whether a name change may be appropriate or not.

"If we stay silent, there is some level of complicity," he suggested.

Commenting on Charles McGarel's contribution to the town, Mr Corrigan said: "Ultimately, his wealth came off the backs of people enslaved."

He stressed that the full story surrounding local public figures needs to be told and if there is "no explanation, a big part of history is missing".

"It is a matter for people in the borough to consider," he added.

But Mr Robinson responded: "Charles McGarel was a major benefactor to 19th century Larne. He provided the town with a town hall, alms houses and a cemetery among other charitable deeds.

"History tells us that McGarel was involved in a sugar plantation in Demerara, and of course, no-one in Larne would condone slavery.

"Clearly, some people have been trying to remove historical record from the public landscape and this is an extremely dangerous path as George Orwell's novel 1984 shows clearly.

"Amnesty International should focus more on modern issues including, for example, modern slavery and the terrible attacks on farming families in South Africa and leave history as a legacy.

"If we do not accept that people may do wrong things but have the capacity to do good as well, then in Northern Ireland politics, we would have to consider wiping out references from the records to quite a number of politicians, some quite high profile."

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has stated it has no plans to change the name of the McGarel Hall.

A spokesperson said: "The building is named Larne Town Hall; within the building, the larger room is called the McGarel Hall. There are no plans to change the name."

Belfast Telegraph